Supporting the local economy with access to an inexpensive energy source is more than just a phase in southeast Essex County.
Representatives of Union Gas and local dignitaries gathered at Pomas Farms on Highway 77 in Leamington Thursday, Nov. 24 to celebrate the completion of the Panhandle Reinforcement Project’s second of three phases. The event was centred around a number of speeches where the project’s importance to the greenhouse industry was discussed, capped by a ribbon cutting ceremony. The celebration took place inside a newly expanded section of Pomas Farms that will nearly double the operation’s acreage from 38 to 72.
Once construction is completed in mid December, the workforce at the Leamington site will also come close to doubling from the current 60 to an estimated 110. The second phase, known also as the Leamington Expansion Project, added seven kilometres of 12-inch pipe for direct access to natural gas for local greenhouse growers including Pomas. The local business’s expansion began in June of this year and as guests of the event pointed out, serves as evidence of the Union Gas project’s immediate positive impact.
“If there was no gas, we wouldn’t be building like this,” explained David Braun, who’s family has owned and operated Pomas Farms since it was incorporated in 2010. “It’s (the natural gas line addition) is the only reason we did it. Other utilities are available, but gas was lacking.”
Pomas Farms has used diesel fuel to heat its greenhouses in the past, but both David and his brother Daniel Braun explained that that particular energy source is expensive and less environmentally sound than natural gas.
“I don’t understand why there’s a carbon tax on natural gas,” Daniel said. “The CO2 made by the boilers from gas is re-used by the greenhouse. We can’t do that with diesel — it’ll harm the plants.”
In recent years, greenhouse operations not utilizing a fixed supply of gas have experienced interruptions in flow because of shortages during particularly cold winters. The costs associated with running greenhouse facilities has led to a number of Ontario operations closing down and relocating in the United States, where government subsidization is offered, Daniel Braun explained. With the Panhandle expansion, the potential exists for a 100 per cent ‘lock in’ supply of natural gas for operations such as Pomas. In addition to the new extensions being constructed at the Braun family business, three new operations outside of Pomas are in the works because of the Panhandle’s first two phases.
The Union Gas project’s first phase was completed in 2013 and if the Ontario Energy Board approves the third phase in January of next year, it will come to fruition in November of 2017. Phase One was based on the installation of 10 km of 12-inch diameter pipe and like Phase Two, was a $12 million investment. The third segment of the project will extend toward Windsor and will comprised of 40 km of 36-inch diameter pipe for a cost of about $265 million.
The Nov. 24 announcement was led by Union Gas infranchise sales, marketing and customer care vice president Mark Isherwood, who also invited comments from Essex County warden Tom Bain, Leamington mayor John Paterson, Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls and Ontario Greenhouse and Vegetable Growers manager of science and government relations Dr. Justine Taylor. The pipeline expansion will increase natural gas services in Leamington as well as Kingsville for a total of 55 greenhouse operations. The increased capacity equates to 570 acres, officially made available as of October 28 this year.